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Steve started working the kayak over to the spot where the whale had last sounded. After it had been underwater a couple of minutes, my pulse slackened, and I began to relax. "Think it's gone?" I asked hopefully.
"They stay under as long as six minutes when they're feeding," Steve said. "I'm timing it."
I suddenly remembered whom I had in the stern. The mad church-tower climber. The fearless falling foreigner. The man who'd lived to tell about the time his heart had stopped. "How long's it been?" I asked.
"Coming on six minutes," he said.
The sea was eerily still. I wondered, How deep is it here? Six hundred feet? Seven hundred? I saw bubbles dead ahead. Bubbles in the middle of the bay? "Hey, look there."
The whale. In my face. Breaking through the surface like a bear crashing through the undergrowth. "Left rudder! I'm not kidding!" I yelled.
The whale was 20 feet away when Steve finally began to turn the kayak. It would have been too late, but that gentle giant swerved to avoid us. Then, when it was right beside us, two lengths of the paddle away, the humpback sounded once more, its massive flukes towering above us like falling trees. I could count the barnacles on its tail. The whale slid into the deep without a ripple, and for a full minute after it had disappeared, a patch of calm remained where it had gone under. Ibis is known as the whale's footprint.
For an hour and 45 minutes we stayed out there, watching while the whale fed. Usually it stayed down the full six minutes. The burbling we saw on the surface was the work of the whale, a bubble curtain that it blew around the krill to concentrate them into a small area as it gorged. Once, the krill must have schooled near the surface, for the humpback started to thrash on top of the water, swinging its head left and right, mouth opened wide.
We later found out that small boats are not permitted within a quarter mile of humpbacks, for fear that the whales, which are endangered, will be harassed out of the bay. However, this humpback clearly didn't mind our presence. It seemed curious. It once circled to the shore side of our two kayaks and surfaced 20 feet behind Mark.